Nursing Through The Night: When is it Time to Stop?
A reader named Carly wrote in a question about nursing through the night with her toddler. She asks:
“My 14-month-old is still nursing through the night. I put him down awake and leave the room and he goes to sleep. He wakes up to nurse throughout the night every 2 hours or so. When I’ve tried to just talk to him from the door so he knows I’m there, he gets angry. What are your thoughts? Thanks.”
The best advice for Carly includes:
- Get enough daytime food
- Get enough daytime sleep
- Teaching him to fall asleep on his own
- Night weaning
Does He Need to be Nursing Through the Night?
Before investigating night weaning, be sure to ask your doctor or pediatrician whether he can go all night without a feeding. Most toddlers are ready to sleep through the night at this point. If it helps understand the situation better, keep a record of his food and drink for a week before asking the question. It’s likely that if he is healthy and eats well during the day, he does not need to be nursing through the night.
Make Sure Your Toddler Gets Enough Sleep
Much like daytime eating, daytime sleep and an early enough bedtime are going to make night weaning and sleep training much easier. Hopefully his bedtime is around 7 or 7:30 p.m., and he’s having two good naps.
It looks like maybe you’ve done a little sleep coaching previously. Remember that he needs about 11 ¼ hours of sleep at night, about 2 ¼ to 2 ½ total hours of sleep during the day over the course of two naps. Make sure that he’s totally awake at bedtime; especially if at some point you did do some sleep coaching and he cried a little bit or protested while learning the skill of putting himself to sleep at bedtime.
Wondering how much sleep your child needs?
Read: Sample Schedules: Sleep and Naps From 6 Months to Preschool
He Needs to Learn to Fall Asleep on His Own
Now you have to teach him the harder skill of putting himself to sleep. This will help him in going back to sleep in the middle of the night just like going back to sleep after too short of a nap.
Learn how to put your child down Drowsy But Awake:
Read: Drowsy But Awake — The Cornerstone of Successful Sleep Training
Night Weaning – Stop Nursing Through the Night
Create a nighttime weaning plan, and then follow through. So, if your plan is to stop feeding him altogether at night, you may want to do so one of two ways:
- “Cold turkey” which means that you respond to all night awakenings but not with feedings
- Do one feeding per night for three nights and then no feeding on the fourth night and beyond. This can be a “set time” feeding or a single feeding when he wakes.
Want to know more about night weaning?
Read: Night Weaning After Six Months: How to Gently End Night Feedings
Ask For Help
You might want to ask if there’s somebody else in the family like dad or another adult who could help you. that would be wonderful, because your child is old enough to know that dad—or another adult—can’t nurse him and that way you would remove that struggle.
If it means starting next to the crib for the nighttime wakings and going through The Shuffle again, that’s okay. Go ahead and do it and I’m sure within 7 to 10 nights he’ll be sleeping through the night.